Is Cancun the Real Mexico?

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Day 4: Cancun, Mexico

I was sheepish when I told people that I was flying into Cancun. It appears to be the anthesis of a backpacking trip.  I always quickly qualified the statement with the bargain basement price of the airline ticket.

I thought Cancun would be an easy place to start. I wasn’t staying on one of the all-inclusive resorts in Cancun so surely the city would be interesting. I planned to spend a couple days on the beach and move on.

When my bags were missing so was my swimsuit and towel and I was left to wander the city.

The first day I had high hopes that I would be able to uncover the true Cancun underneath the resort sparkle and shine.

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I don’t know why I was surprised to see the city was also filled with tourists, staying at cheap hotels and trekking to the beach everyday.

What I quickly realized was this was Spring Break. So most of my hostel mates were here for the week, ready to sunbathe all afternoon and head to clubs at night with $50 cover charges.

Cancun is expensive and can quickly break a budget if you get caught up in the craze. M

y Spring Break friends openly admitted that this wasn’t Mexico and they didn’t want it to be, they compare it to an adult playland like Miami or Las Vegas.

The city has evolved to cater to this crowd, that may want to occasional taco but more often wants McDonalds, Burger King, Applebees and buys sunscreen and novelty towels at Wal-Mart.

I don’t know what the real Mexico is, but after 3 days I’m tired of Spring Break so I’m moving onto Tulum, which apparently is some old hippie town on the ocean.

It still has the beachgoers but is supposed to be more laid back.

So hasta la vista Cancun, actually I may never see you again.

Join the Conversation

  1. Cornelius Aesop says:

    I’m not surprised to see that you tired of Cancun quickly, it likely was the direct opposite of what you were looking for to start off your explorations. Hope Tulum has more to offer.

  2. Chris - The Aussie Nomad says:

    I think I’d like to see Cancun just because you hear so much about it, what with spring break and all. Not sure I’d want to be there when spring break was on though.

  3. I visited Playa del Carmen last December, which I think is about an hour from Cancun, and wasn’t impressed either. It’s a scaled down version of Cancun and that was even without the spring breakers. I was so over it after 3 days!! Good luck on your trip. It may not have started out the smoothest, but it ‘s all going to be worth it in the end.

  4. I would think since you had to cross the Mexico border to get there, Cancun is the real Mexico. Just because it’s popular does that make it any less authentic.

    Is Toronto the true representation of Canada? Or is the real Canada in some small town in northern Manitoba. Who’s to say?

    Anyhow I always found the ‘what’s authentic’ discussion interesting.

    Keep safe.

  5. Ayngelina – I hung out in Cancun one day while staying on Isla Mujeres, and I didn’t find it expensive. I wonder if they jacked up all prices just like they must have at the clubs that were charging $50! You’ll probably like Tulum a lot more. It’s far more out of the way. And hopefully it’s not a spring break mecca.

  6. Just from the people I know who have been to Cancun I can imagine what it’s like in the wrong areas.

    I guess the best way I can imagine to describe it would be ‘DAAAA BOIS!!’

  7. Ayngelina Author says:

    I would agree that for better or worse Cancun is definitely the real Mexico. You’re right that I crossed the border and people live there.

    Although I don’t think Toronto is a fair comparison. Toronto wasn’t manufactured solely for tourism as Cancun was. We don’t put people in a tourist zone and create a fake town for them when they want to venture off their resort.

    Now having been in a few other Mexican towns I see how tourism can integrate into a city, like Toronto, without having the two separate entities that exists in Cancun.

    Some people love resorts and love Cancun and that’s cool. It’s just not my cup of tea.

  8. I found your blog via ChowHound (I was the one who suggested the places to eat!). A couple of comments: of course Cancun is the “real” Mexico! It’s also given hundreds of thousands of Mexicans the opportunity to make a living wage in Mexico as opposed to having to cross the border into the US for work. As far as prices go, it’s definitely one of the more cities in Mexico to live in, but typically large metropolises are more expensive. I’ve also spent lots of time in the “wrong” areas of Cancun, but those areas are where most of the migrants live and they’re more likely to continue the traditions that they grew up with in their home villages. Cancun has long facinated me because of its many, many layers. What peeves me is the sense of reverse snobbery from some backpackers I’ve met in Mexico (and I’m soooo not implying you fall into this category!!!) about the fact that they are experiencing the “real” Mexico in Tulum or wherever because they’re spending less $ and not staying a t a huge resort. In my experience, they are just as likely to stay amongst other backpackers as package tourists do and just as likely to hang out and booze it up (albeit in cheaper places) and not truly venture out and meet up with interesting locals.

    A shame as well that those you met in the hostel were dead set on going to the Hotel Zone to party, as there are plenty of local bars, restaurants, and clubs that they could have gone to within walking distance of the hostel!

    Enjoy your travels!

    1. Ayngelina Author says:

      Melissa,

      Thanks so much for the Chowhound suggestions, those tacos were so amazing. If you have any suggestions for Merida/Campeche/San Cristobal/Oaxaca I would love to hear them.

      I think part of the issue was that I unknowingly arrived during Spring Break and no one wanted to do anything but go clubbing. Tulum is more relaxed but definitely a tourist destination. I’ve actually enjoyed Mexico the further SouthWest I go. Valladolid was really peaceful and relaxing and I’m enjoying Merida as I go. My Spanish is also improving quite a bit which helps.

      1. nomadic translator says:

        I definitely agree with you Ayngelina. I felt Cancun was extremely Americanized. Even though I stayed outside the hotel strip, which was a breath of fresh air… I wasn’t a big fan.

        I wonder whether Playa Del Carmen will be the same? I’m visiting in 3 weeks. From a previous comment, it seems so. Well, I hope not so much…!

        – Maria Alexandra

        1. Ayngelina Author says:

          No actually PDC is much different. Yes it is a tourist spot but it seems to be much more integrated with locals. In Cancun they very much want to keep tourists segregated but in Playa del Carmen the tourists go into town all the time. When you go make sure you hit Aguachiles and also the taco stand next to the Red Cross.

  9. Actually, I haven’t been to Merida and Chiapas in so many years, that I don’t have suggestions! Too bad I didn’t know your next destination was Valladolid…have lots of places there! My husband is from a small village just south of Valladolid, so I’ve spent a lot of time there. And the whole reason why I have such a different perspective on Cancun is I did my field work on why Yucatec Mayans migrate to Cancun. 😉

  10. well i could sooo sleep there loved the colours of the flowers and was that floor shiney or what. Thanks for brightening up my rainy valley day.
    anneYour Message

  11. I found your blog via ChowHound (I was the one who suggested the places to eat!). A couple of comments: of course Cancun is the “real” Mexico! It’s also given hundreds of thousands of Mexicans the opportunity to make a living wage in Mexico as opposed to having to cross the border into the US for work. As far as prices go, it’s definitely one of the more cities in Mexico to live in, but typically large metropolises are more expensive. I’ve also spent lots of time in the “wrong” areas of Cancun, but those areas are where most of the migrants live and they’re more likely to continue the traditions that they grew up with in their home villages. Cancun has long facinated me because of its many, many layers. What peeves me is the sense of reverse snobbery from some backpackers I’ve met in Mexico (and I’m soooo not implying you fall into this category!!!) about the fact that they are experiencing the “real” Mexico in Tulum or wherever because they’re spending less $ and not staying a t a huge resort. In my experience, they are just as likely to stay amongst other backpackers as package tourists do and just as likely to hang out and booze it up (albeit in cheaper places) and not truly venture out and meet up with interesting locals.

    A shame as well that those you met in the hostel were dead set on going to the Hotel Zone to party, as there are plenty of local bars, restaurants, and clubs that they could have gone to within walking distance of the hostel!

    Enjoy your travels!

  12. Cancun certainly isn’t cheap! It’s not really set up for backpacking, it mainly consists of large and expensive all inclusive hotels. You can find cheaper hostels but for that sort of thing and if you are on a budget in general, you are better off in Tulum.

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